I’ve been meaning to write a post about Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox Corporation, for some time. During the President’s recent State of the Union Address, I saw Ms. Burns in the audience. This not only reminded me that I should certainly write a post about her, but it made me wonder what she was doing there. As the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 Company, her story speaks volumes. It reminds us of the importance of remaining persistent. You never know what opportunities are just around the corner.
On January 25, 2011, Ms. Burns sat in the First Lady’s viewing box as a guest of the President of the United States. She was being honored for her work with the Change the Equation STEM initiative and the Export Council. Both organizations strive to improve our country’s global competitiveness and increase job opportunities. What an amazing thing to be a part of!
I’m sure when Ms. Burns started at Xerox Corporation in 1980 as an intern, she had no idea where she would be 31 years later. One thing that I notice about her, is that she is an advocate of excellence. I briefly mentioned her here, after I read some of her advice. At that time, she spoke about making sure you are great at something. This was not a random piece of advice. She continually practices what she preaches and continues to push herself to great heights. That has allowed her to add to her list of accomplishments. Not just a CEO, parent, and wife, she was a part of the first woman-to-woman succession of a Fortune 500 company, and in 2010 was rated the 20th most powerful woman in the world.
What does Ursula Burns teach us about building our personal brands? I few recurring themes come to mind. Like Will Smith said here, “Don’t be outworked.” Have a clear idea in mind and work towards it. Ms. Burns may not have known that she would be CEO, but she did know that she was an electrical engineer. Staying true to that passion allowed her to grow and succeed. Had she decided to be a pop singer, she may not have been as successful. Also, hard work isn’t a punishment. If you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work at all. In several interviews, Ms. Burns has said that she woke up excited to get to work starting at the beginning of her career with Xerox. Lastly, be true to yourself.
Is there anything else that Ms. Burns’ career has taught you? Are there any questions you would like to ask her if you could?